SEPARATE BUT EQUAL PERFORMANCE AWARD SYSTEMS

In a country that knows more than a little bit about the vicious fallacy of a “separate but equal” approach to treating people, one would think there would be little tolerance for it in any venue. Yet, federal executives seem oblivious to how the current performance award programs they operate are precisely that.  HR managers act outright offended  at this accusation even though science proved to them over 50 years ago how destructive even a feeling of inequity among employees is to an organization. Consequently, it has fallen to union negotiating teams to be the modern-day equivalent of Freedom Riders if this is to change.

FEDSMILL believes that there should be some form of obvious equity between the performance award given a bargaining unit employee for outstanding performance and the award given her manager for outstanding performance.  For example, imagine a GS-13 manager supervises a group of two GS-13 specialists, three GS-9 technicians, and four GS-6 clerical employees.  Further imagine that the manager and the two GS-13 specialists all get Outstanding ratings for the year. Why shouldn’t they get treated equally when awards are funded and calculated?

According to federal classification regulations they are both performing at the same grade level of skill, knowledge and ability.  Federal statute also requires that employees receive equal pay for equal work. Finally, it is virtually a universal truth that outstanding technical specialists in some field often do not make an outstanding manager in that field.  The reverse is also true.  Outstanding managers are often not the technical experts in their group.  Forcing the top technical expert in a work group to go into management at the same pay grade just to get greater compensation is insane.

Equity theory, proven valid decades ago, advises that if you have two people in a work group who perceive themselves as contributing equally to the organization, but you give them unequal rewards, you will soon have trouble in the form of attrition, the withholding extra effort, morale, grievances, and maybe some good old fashion examples of the adage, “Don’t just get angry, get even.”

Given the financial conflict of interest among managers to potentially lower their own award compensation just to fund an equitable system, union negotiators will have to drive us away from the persistent shadow of the infamous Dred Scott decision.  It was wrong then to say that some people are worth only 3/5’s of what others are even if they contribute the same to their country, and it is wrong now to say that a smaller percentage of the budget should be set aside to reward the top performing unit employees than is set aside to reward their non-unit managers for the same high levels of performance.

Equity demands that the funding for unit and nonunit awards be calculated the same way, e.g., 1.5% of the total annual aggregate salary of each group.  Given that most managers are at higher grades than unit employees 1.5% of their total salary will allow for them to receive higher award dollar amounts.

The FLRA has held negotiable a union proposal that the awards for unit and nonunit employees be funded equitably. Check out Proposal 1(i)in AFGE, 31 FLRA 921 (1988) which states, “Performance Award Budget. The amount of money allocated by the Agency for distribution as performance awards to employees in the pool. The amount shall not be less than the highest percentage allocated to any other pool.”

Let’s go, union leaders.  Drive on.

About AdminUN

FEDSMILL staff has over 40 years of federal sector labor relations experience on the union as well as management side of the table and even some time as a neutral.
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